Grand jury indicts former county school bus driver

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: December 28, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.

March 2019 crash injured three South Elementary students

PRINCE GEORGE – A Prince George County grand jury has indicted a former school bus driver in connection with a crash last school year that left three students injured.

According to court records, Charles City County native Holly Owens was indicted on a single count of felony failure to stop following an accident that resulted in injury, damage, or death by the grand jury on November 19, with her trial date tentatively set for February 2, 2020.

Owens’ trial date comes nearly a year to the day of the March 8, 2019 crash that resulted in the charges being levied against her when, according to Prince George County Police, the bus Owens was driving “traveled off the left shoulder of Pumphouse Road.” When it did, authorities said the bus “struck a mailbox and a culvert pipe before the driver was able to reposition the bus back on the roadway.”

Their investigation revealed that the driver continued their route, transporting students to South Elementary School and, according to police, “After the students were released at the school, the Police Department was made aware of the incident.”

Three students on the bus were taken from the school and transported to Petersburg’s Southside Regional Medical Center via ambulance with minor injuries, with school officials noting roughly five other students whose parents took them to the hospital for evaluation.

Immediately following the crash, Prince George Police Chief Keith Early told The Prince George Journal their investigation found, “the school bus was involved in a crash, the school bus driver did not stop at the scene and went on to the school, to which [police] were then notified about the crash, but it was not the bus driver who reported it.”

As news of the incident spread through the community into the following weekend, questions about the proper procedure for bus drivers when it comes to reporting accidents began to circulate. Following the March 8 accident, Prince George County Public Schools’ then-assistant superintendent Dr. Lisa Pennycuff was direct in her answer to that question, noting the bus driver did not follow the school division’s regulations.

“They are supposed to report those incidents immediately,” she explained to the Prince George Journal in March. “The driver is to call and immediately report the incident and stay on the scene. We have members of our transportation department report to the scene. We usually have a police officer there. If needed, we have the bus pulled out, either by our staff and our equipment or if we need to call someone for help, we do that. We generally have another bus report and pick up the children and take them on to school so, that way the driver and the bus don’t leave the scene of the accident.”

Pennycuff continued, “So, for us, the director of transportation or someone he designates from his office would then accompany the driver for a drug screening, that is part of our normal process.”

Days after the crash, Owens was charged in Prince George General District Court and eventually arrested on charges of felony failure to stop at the scene of an accident and reckless driving. She would later be released on bond.

Weeks after the crash, the school system confirmed to The Prince George Journal that Owens was no longer employed with PGCPS, but it is unknown if she resigned or was terminated from her bus driver position.

When asked about the general procedure the school division follows when a circumstance like this, the assistant superintendent explained that the “school division places the employee on Administrative Leave while an investigation is conducted,” which, at the time of the March 8 crash, Pennycuff said they were in the midst of their internal investigation and the driver, who hadn’t been identified at the time, would “be on administrative leave until the investigation has been completed.”

“Once the investigation is completed, the findings drive the next steps that are taken with personnel,” Pennycuff said.

Since June, the case was continued several times until last month when the judge allowed Prince George Commonwealth Attorney Susan Fierro to move forward with presenting the case to a seating of the grand jury in November. In addition, the misdemeanor reckless driving charge levied against Owens in general district court was amended to improper driving, a traffic infraction, with the former bus driver being required to pay just over $160 in fines and court costs, according to court records.

The Prince George Journal reached out to Owens’ attorney, Aubrey Bowels, III, for comment on behalf of his client but calls were not returned.

Regarding the pending case in Prince George Circuit Court, state law says “if the accident results in injury to or the death of any person, or if the accident results in more than $1,000 of damage to property,” anyone convicted of felony failure to stop at the scene of an accident would be guilty of a Class 5 felony, which carries penalties between one to ten years in prison or, at the discretion of the jury or a court trying the case without a jury, up to 12 months in jail and a fine up to $2,500, either or both.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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